Showering and bathing can be difficult when you’re living with arthritis. These hacks can help.

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Have you ever had difficulty taking care of yourself independently due to arthritis?

You’re not alone. Many people don’t recognize just how many joints there are in their bodies until they experience joint pain. Then, it becomes quickly clear just how many joints are used for even the most simple daily activities!

After living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for 19 years and being an occupational therapist for 9, I’ve learned many tips and tricks to make everyday tasks — like showering and bathing — easier.

When it comes to getting clean, the first thing to think about is: How will I get into the bathtub or shower?

People with osteoarthritis, RA, or ankylosing spondylitis may have pain, stiffness, or movement restrictions in their hips, knees, back, or feet. So, they might need alternate ways to get into or out of a shower or bathtub.

If you have lower body pain, you might find it easier to bathe in a shower that’s flush with the ground, rather than a bathtub that requires you to take a big step over the lip of the tub.

If you do need to get into a bathtub, it’s good to know that tub transfer benches exist.

These are waterproof pieces of adaptive equipment that allow you to pivot and slide into the tub without bending your knees or hips as much as you would if you were “stepping” into the tub. These are commonly used after hip or knee replacement surgeries.

Another tip for getting into and out of the shower or bath is to consider the benefits of grab bars. These can help you take some pressure off your lower body while getting into and out of the shower or bathtub, and can also assist you if you’re prone to losing your balance.

Sometimes, hand pain can make it difficult to even turn the water on in the first place. It can be helpful to assess the faucet style in your bathtub or shower and make sure it’s the easiest for you to use.

For example, you may find that faucets that use a lever are easier to use with sore hands than knobs that require you to twist. The resistance of each knob will also affect how easy it is to turn on and off.

Another thing to consider is the style of your shower head.

I have a handheld shower hose that has a long lever style mechanism for switching between different amounts of water pressure. It also has a wide grip that’s easier to hold than the typical style.

Once you’re in the shower or tub and are ready to get clean, your joint pain may make it difficult to wash up without pain. It’s helpful during these times to remember joint protection principles.

Here are some basic tips:

  • Use bigger joints to compensate for pain in smaller joints.
  • Use two hands to complete a task rather than one, to distribute force across multiple joints rather than overloading one joint.
  • Use adaptive equipment (such as a shower chair), if needed, to take the strain off your body.

To access shampoo and conditioner with sore hands, consider a pump bottle over a squeeze bottle. This allows you to use larger joints and muscles rather than small finger muscles and joints which might be tender.

Alternately, you can reduce your hand demands even further by installing a touchless dispenser system, like those used for soap in public restrooms.

To wash your hair when you have shoulder pain, try a long handled hair scrubber. This will allow you to access the top of your head without having to move your upper arm and shoulder up.

To wash your hair with sore hands, try a handheld scalp massager. These are really helpful if your fingers are tender and sore.

To wash your back and body with a sore back or shoulders, try a long handled soap scrubber or use the same one you used for your hair.

If your fatigue and joint pain are so bad you can’t get into the shower or tub at all, consider a dry shampoo, which can be applied when you’re not in the shower.

Shaving can be very tricky if you have joint pain.

When my pain has been bad, I’ve personally preferred to shave my legs outside the shower with an electric razor. This allows me to be more creative with my positioning to avoid awkward positions that often can arise in the small confines of a shower.

For people with systemic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, or lupus, bathing can be difficult from a fatigue perspective. While warm water can feel wonderful on stiff joints, it can sometimes make fatigue even worse.

A shower seat may help you conserve energy while showering. By sitting on the chair rather than standing in the shower, you will conserve energy, and you may find that you’re able to shower for a longer period of time without as much fatigue as if you were standing.

Shower chairs can also be helpful if you prefer to shave in a wet shower or bath.

Another fatigue-fighting tip is to consider the time of day you’ll be showering or bathing. Some people tend to have worse symptoms in the morning versus in the evening.

If you time your shower around your existing patterns of energy and pain, you may be more comfortable.

I know firsthand how difficult pain and fatigue from arthritis can make the once simple task of showering. I hope these hacks, tools, and tips will make things a little easier for you.

Cheryl Crow is an occupational therapist who’s lived with rheumatoid arthritis for 19 years. In 2019, Cheryl started Arthritis Life to help others thrive despite arthritis. She facilitates online courses and support groups to help people adjust to their conditions and live full and meaningful lives. Most days you can find Cheryl creating life hack videos, sharing patient stories on the Arthritis Life Podcast, or spreading the word about acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).